Wednesday, March 20, 2013

All Parents Mess Up.

I'm not oblivious to the fact that every parent has days when they wonder (or know) if they are doing the right thing. I wish that's all today had been- a test of parental faith. But today wasn't an I-don't-think-I'm-doing-my-best-in-this-moment sort of day, it was an I'm-being-told-by-a-children's-professional-that-I've-been-screwing-my-child-up sort of day.

Here's how it all began...

In a time not-too-distant, in a land called Greensboro, a 4-month-old baby boy weighed 14 lbs. 3 oz. Let's call him "Whit." He was estimated to be in the 44% for weight, which came as no surprise to his adoring parents. See, Whit's mom had had many ultrasounds during her pregnancy and many pediatrician appointments since he was born which all tracked Whit along the 50% for weight, as well. In the months that followed, however, Whit seemed to stop gaining weight. He grew longer, his face became thinner, and he began to resemble more of a little boy than a baby as sitting up stretched his neck and teeth sprouted in his smile. Although he seemed to be doing well, his parents became concerned that Whit wasn't gaining any weight. Whit also wasn't advancing toward some developmental milestones, either. Well-meaning family, friends, and strangers would often offer this advice to Whit's parents: "Just wait until he's 8 months. That's when he'll start signing." "Babies don't usually start crawling until 8 months." "His weight has plateaued for now, but in a couple of months he'll be gaining weight again." etc, etc. And so it was that they patiently (for the most part) waited for this mythical 8-month stage when all of their concerns would magically be overcome.

It didn't happen.

I don't need to be told that all babies are unique- I know that- but I couldn't help wondering if Whit's lack of interest in signing, creeping, crawling, pulling up, and standing (all of which, or at least some of which, really ought to be happening right about now) was related to his slight build. Is it possible that he isn't gaining enough weight to build the muscle needed for those actions, or something?

So today I brought him in for a visit to his pediatrician's office just to make sure his physical development isn't stunted. Give me a break- he's my first child and, though I try not to let the stress show to Whit, everything he does/ doesn't do is admittedly over-analyzed. He weighed in at exactly 15 lbs. Even less than I thought.

The conversation went something like this:
Dr. L: "Does he get solid food?"
Me: "He has two meals a day of solid food."
Dr. L: "Why is he only getting two meals?! He should be getting three plus a snack!"
Me: "Well... We were told at 4 months to give him one meal, and at 6 months to give him two meals. I didn't want to do anything new without hearing from his pediatrician first."
Dr. L: "How often does he nurse?"
Me: "Every 2 hours or so. He's been teething the last few weeks, so he's nursing a few extra times at night when he wakes up." 
Dr. L: "Teething has nothing to do with it."
Me: "Oh I know, I just wanted you to know that he's getting even more milk than normal and his weight is still low." 
Dr. L: "Well you're right about that!" (shows me the graph of Whit's weight since birth and how it had plateaued then took a nosedive off the chart.) "How long does he nurse for?"
Me: "About 10 mins." 
Dr. L: "No wonder! He isn't nursing for long enough. You're feeding him too often. He's just snacking. You need to refuse him nursing so he's hungry enough to nurse long enough to get to the hindmilk during each feeding. You need to get him down to nursing just 4 times a day." 
Me: "Ok, that makes sense, but I feed him all he wants until he seems satisfied, then feed him again when he's hungry..." 
Dr. L: "You've been teaching him that when he cries you'll feed him. I would cry all the time if it meant someone would nurse me, too!" (Did I mention Dr. L is a man?) "You'll have to let him throw his tantrums without giving in and feeding him. And you have to be consistent. B. F. Skinner taught us about the link between behavior-consequences-reward." (Yes, he actually tried to tell me who Skinner was)

Dr. L checked Whit's stomach and his liver and onions kidneys are fine, he was moving his arms and legs around enough that Dr. L isn't concerned with his motor skills, and we were sent on our way with the strict instructions to get that kid on a schedule!

Which basically (and complicatedly... really any way you look at it) boils down to the fact that I, his mother, the being ultimately entrusted with his care, have been facilitating and encouraging Whit's bad behavior of not nursing the right way and not feeding him solid meals often enough and, therefore, am responsible for his low weight.

But how the heck was I supposed to know that?!?!?!?! And Whit is already pretty comfortable erring on the side of discomfort and sadness, which I think I deal with pretty well on a daily basis thankyouverymuch, so who is he to make it sound as simple as letting him cry through a tantrum until he figures out he won't get the reward? Whit isn't being manipulative- this is the way he's acted since birth! And realizing early on that I'd have to be firm with him so he might eventually outgrow his solace and learn to depend on himself to be happy means I don't just automatically coddle him. I Don't!

Ugh! Just.... ugh!

It was such a horrible feeling to go to a pediatrician looking for help and comfort, and instead be met with news that my baby is even worse than I expected and his shortcoming are a direct result of my poor parenting. I love him so much, and I really do try to be good for him.

So after Whit's nap we went to the grocery store and came back with lots of goodies that I'll be giving him all day long now:

When I'm a grandma (hopefully) will I look back on these days and regret doing everything wrong and think I've totally messed up my precious baby?


  1. Susannah, I often have wondered how first children survive their parents' loving mistreatment. I have made so many mistakes with Levi and am amazed every day that he doesn't have some serious long-term condition because of my mess-ups. By the time you're a grandma, you will look back and realize that kids are more resilient than we give them credit for.

    Also, with regards to visits to the doctor, for at least the first year of Levi's life, I always felt guilty for being a bad mom after visiting the doctor. There was always something I hadn't done or wasn't doing right.

    PS. I have a friend who had a little boy in the 1st percentile (and at some points, below that) that started crawling at 10 months and walking at about 12 months. He wasn't as energetic as Levi, but he was ok. They fed him high-fat food to try to get his calorie intake up. Did your doctor give you any diet suggestions for Whit?

  2. That could happen to anyone, you are a great mom because you love him and will do whatever necessary to take care of him.

  3. Hope you don't mind this lurker/non-mom's thoughts ;). If you don't want to change what you're doing since you know he is too young to manipulate, could you just pump/hand express the the foremilk so that when he nurses he is getting the fattier hindmilk? I wonder if that plus a little more food would solve the issue.

  4. I thought it was odd that he was such a quick nurser but I wouldn't have thought it would be such a problem. It will be tough to re-teach him, but giving him more table food should help. Sorry your trip to the doctor was so traumatic. Don't feel bad, though. You did the right thing - sought professional help - and are willing to do what you need to do to help Whit gain weight. That's what matters.

  5. I am positive you are a great mother, Whit is so blessed to have you as his mother! No mother is perfect, the important thing is that you love him and can now take the suggestions the doc gave you! Don't get discouraged!! :)

  6. Wow, that doctor was a jerk. Lecturing you about nursing your baby too much? Good luck with the new feeding schedule. Try lots of good fat--avocado, for example. I have some book recommendations if you are interested.


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